”Mar…we have studio time with that new guy scheduled…I can’t do it…” he told her dusting off the last bits of the broken plates.
”No. You’re going. It will take like 2 hours. They can survive without you for a few hours. I won’t make you stay home with me after. This is when I put my foot down…” she stomped her foot on the ground. ”You’re going and that’s the end of the story.” she turned around going into the bedroom knowing she had won the argument. That’s right. She smiled to herself looking in the mirror suddenly snapping back into reality…tomorrow we could find out if he is going to die….no….no…this isn’t going to happen….no….I won’t let it happen….she looked up in the mirror seeing her red eyes and little amount of make-up running down her cheeks. Is this what he did when I was sick? This is shit. I can’t deal with this. Who did he cry to? Did he? Who did he talk to? How did Rosie end up so perfect? She continued to cry looking in the mirror turning suddenly hearing him singing something random as he walked into the bedroom. He instinctively knew that she was in lots of pain coming up behind her looking at himself in the mirror thinking exactly the same things she was.
”It was hard Marla…some days I didn’t even want to get up. There were days that I didn’t even brush my hair or take a shower….please promise me you’ll be stronger than that.” he whispered in her ear.
”I can’t promise you anything…but I’ll try.” she said wiping her tears off her cheek. He turned around facing her laying his head on her forehead looking into her eyes trying not to cry himself.
”You are going to make it. We’re going to make it, Marla. We always do.” he told her kissing her nose making her jump a little smiling.
”Ohhhh…” she screamed starting to laugh. ”What time is it, Bru?” she asked him.
”It’s 11…” he answered looking at his watch.
”We need to go get this kids.” she told him grabbing her purse.
He followed her out to the car looking in the back where a small booster seat sat between two very small car seats. ”Mar…you’re the most amazing wife ever.” he said kissing her cheek at a stop light.
”If you keep saying those things I’m going to start to blush.” she told him.
Knowing exactly what he was doing he started singing Just the way you are. ”Just the, just the, just the way you aareeee…..so amazinnnggggg….just the way you areeeee….” he finished squeezing her hand as they pulled into her parents’ driveway.
They opened the door to the house hearing Rosie scream and Esperanza crying.
”Oh my goodness….” Marla gasped seeing toys thrown all over the place and Rosie sitting in time out while her mother tried to calm Esperanza down. Bruno took Esperanza from Sylvia’s arms calming her almost instantly as Marla started picking up the toys. This is too much for her to have to clean up on her own. Marla thought throwing things in piles watching Rosie get up from her time out. ”Please go sit back down, Rosie. I don’t want to have to start the timer again…” she said looking at the microwave that said 1 minute. Rosie turned around dramatically crying as she finished her time out. Sylvia walked over to her granddaughter playing out the same time out routine they had at their house. Marla sat down on the floor watching Rosie as she walked over to her. Marla patthe floor asking her daughter to sit down. ”You wanna tell me what happened?” Marla asked.
”I don’t want to go home.” Rosie told her mother. ”You love the babies more than me.”
”Ohh…Rosalia….” Marla gasped hugging her daughter. ”You will always be loved.” she held onto her daughter hugging her tightly feeling that as her daughter grew older she became even more like her father. His sensitive soul and his readable emotions were inside her. Every single piece of him was inside her. Marla held onto her daughter crying forgetting that everyone was around the two of them seeing the whole exchange.
Marla’s father walked over to Bruno who was watching the two of them while holding the twins. ”What’s wrong with her?” he asked.
”Oh…I don’t even know. You know how she is.” Bruno shrugged knowing exactly why she was crying. Rosie looked up at Bruno pleading with him to have her mother let go of her. ”Go get froggie, Rosie. We’re ready to go.” he told her watching her wiggle out of her mother’s arms. Marla looked down rubbing her eyes looking up at the babies. She held her hand out watching Bruno hand her Angelo who was still sound asleep through all the chaos. ”You better not sleep through life, little man…” she said kissing him on the head.
They drove home stopping to get Rosie her favorite ice cream trying to make her feel better walking back into the house. ”The babies need to eat…but….Bruno…..” she pulled him aside whispering in his ear. ”Do something with Rosie…I think she’s suffering from big sister syndrome.”
”Big sister syndrome?” he asked.
”She’s feeling like she doesn’t mean anything to us anymore.” Marla answered walking to the fridge grabbing some bottles. Bruno kissed Marla on the cheek knowing exactly what he needed to do.
”Rosalia!” he exclaimed. ”Come ‘ere….let’s go to the studio….”
A few minutes later Bruno pulled the car into the studio parking lot watching Rosie run to the door. She turned around almost begging her father to open the door. ”Come onnnnn….” she whined. Bruno looked down at his phone unlocking the door watching her run into the recording room jumping in the spinning chair.
”Rosie…be careful please. Remember when you bumped your head?” he asked her.
”I’m big now. That won’t happen.” she said. ”Dad…what are we doing?”
”You’re gonna sing…because that’s what you like to do…right?” Bruno asked her.
”Yeah…but what do I sing?” she asked him.
”I have a song for you…” he said singing something that could be a song on a children’s movie. ”Do I need to sing it again?”
”No. I know it.” she said. ”But it has to be perfect, dad. No mistakes.” He nodded his head pushing her toward the microphone.
”Ready mi Corazon?” he asked seeing her nod her head the same way he did when he was recording making him smile. God. She is going to be so much trouble. He thought to himself as she started dancing while singing. He looked up at her telling her she was done.
”Not yet. I wanna sing more.” she told him. ”But my songs. And you have to record it.”
”Okay…” he said pressing the button again sitting down with a piece of paper. At the top it he wroteDear Kate and started humming to himself. He looked up seeing Rosie still singing and dancing. He ended the recording pulling her out of the room.”Mama…..do you want to play with the boys?” he asked speaking about Phil’s kids.
”Yeeeesss!” she exclaimed. ”Where are they?”
”They’ll be here soon…” he answered hearing the door open with loud screams coming toward them. A ball flew through the room hitting Bruno in the head making everyone laugh…especially Rosie.
”Dad! Don’t die!” she exclaimed seeing him rub his head. Don’t die. Don’t die. ”Don’t leave me!” she yelled watching him rub his head. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave like momma did. He knew if he didn’t snap her back to the reality of a soft ball hitting him in the head she would start crying. All the things they had been through, without evening knowing it just drove him crazy. He watched her run up to the boys grabbing the ball and throwing it. They all ended up playing some game they made up while Bruno sat on the couch with Phil handing him what he had written down.
”What’s going on, bro? This is like when she was in the hospital….” Phil wondered.
”We were alone last night and Marley found a bump….” he looked down.
”Oh…” Phil answered with little emotion. ”Are you gonna get it checked?”
”Yeah..tomorrow…but it’s just like we can’t catch a fucking break. Things were perfect for like two months. Why can’t they just stay that way? We’ve had enough curve balls.”
”He’s not done with the two of you. He just isn’t dude. And we’re here for you. You have so many people by your side.” Phil answered. ”Woah…where did my balls go?” he joked.
”Fuck, bro! I mean…like seriously!” Bruno said in a low frustrated tone knowing the kids were right by them. Rosie ran up to him jumping on him.
”Dad….what’s wrong? You’re not happy….” she noticed.
She may have my personality, but she has her mother’s perceptiveness. He thought to himself before deciding what to say. ”After I sing my song I’ll be better.” he told them. ”But go and play basketball for a little, mama.”But go and play basketball for a little, mama… ” he said handing her the ball to go outside.
”But dadddd…I wanna hear hear the song.” she whined.
”You can hear it later.” he said pushing her playfully outside with the other kids.
”Ready?” Phil asked.
”Yeah…let’s do this.” Bruno said grabbing the head phones singing his heart out for almost an hour periodically glancing out the window making sure Rosie hadn’t hit anyone in the face.
They finished two songs taking the kids out for dinner and then he drove home seeing Rosie sound asleep in the backseat. Well, it wasn’t that bad. At least she’ll sleep tonight…he said to himself as he carried her into the house. He heard water running in the kitchen and smelled lemon scented cleaning scents all over the house.
”Hi…” Marla said sweetly seeing Bruno carrying Rosie in the house.
”Are the babies asleep?” he asked. She moved her eyes to the middle of the living room where they both slept peacefully.
”Let’s get her to bed….” Marla responded grabbing Rosie’s pajamas seeing her half open her eyes smiling at her. ”Go to sleep, baby…” she said handing her medicine quickly before they laid her down.
”Mommaaa….” Rosie called her as Bruno left the room.
”What nena?” she asked.
”Come here….” she replied holding her arms up to hug her mother. Marla returned the hug leaning down.
”What’s wrong?” she asked.
”Momma…tell dad that he can’t leave me like you.” she told her mother quickly turning around closing her eyes.
”Okay, Rosalia. I will.” Marla said kissing her daughter on the head. ”Suenas bien, mi amor.”
I wrote a song today about you. It’s called Dear Kate. It’s about how much I love you and how much you mean to me. Well, it’s a lot like all the other songs I sing about you but this time…this one is perfect. Marla, I’m scared about tomorrow. I don’t know how you go to all these doctors without being scared. You amaze me so much. I love you.
”We’ll be back in time to pick up Rosie, Mom….” Marla handed over a sleeping Esperanza to her mother as they started to head out the door to the doctor’s appointment.
”It’s okay if you’re later. Lisa can get her when she gets Zachy and Kara.” her mother answered hugging Bruno tightly and then her own daughter. ”It will be okay.” she said choking up a little the same way Marla did as they left the house.
”Look…you even have my mom crying, Bruno.” Marla said taking his hand squeezing it as they walked out the door.
The drive to the doctor’s office, located just feet from a specialized cancer treatment center was quiet. They didn’t listen to music nor did they talk. As he turned down the long winding road Marla let out a gasp and started to cry. Bruno pulled the parking ticket out of the little machine turning to see Marla crying. ”Baby….shhhh….” he put the ticket on the car’s dashboard taking her hand playing with her fingers.
”I just don’t…..” she gasped again. ”how did you do this? How do you do this every single time I get sick? This one time is enough to kill me.”
”Life just happens, Mar. I kind of figured that out a long time ago.” he told her as they walked through the intimidating hallway. He stopped her a few feet from the door facing her. He leaned his forehead into hers looking into her teary eyes. ”Be strong, Marley. I need you.”
The receptionist handed them a huge stack of highlighted papers to fill out before the doctor would see them. Marla took them from his hand.”Let me do it.” she said flipping through the pages frantically filling them all out. He leaned over to see her filling everything out just like she would have before.How does she do that? God, please let me make it like she does every single time. She glanced over at him smiling at him. She got up handing the papers over to the receptionist who looked everything over saying that the doctor would be with them in a few minutes. Almost 30 minutes later, with even more silence, the older man who came highly recommended, walked out from behind a heavy door to walk them back to the examining room. Marla clutched a bright red notebook in one hand and gripped onto a bright pink pen in her other hand sitting off to the side where the doctor and Bruno could talk. They made some small talk before the doctor, Doctor Collins, starts asking questions. He asked about how he found the lump and asked Marla to describe it. She was slightly embarrassed but reassured by the doctor that they’re married and that she’s not the first wife to find something like this. Dr. Collins then explained that they needed to do an ultrasound that would detect if there really was a tumor or if it was just abnormal for his age. Marla cringed at the idea watching Bruno’s facial expression change from hope to despair. He would also need some blood work done to ensure there weren’t any abnormalities there. The nurse would come and take his blood in a few minutes and then they would schedule the ultrasound for later in the week.
”But I’m going to New York for work….can’t we do it now?” Bruno asked looking over at Marla to see what her reaction would be.
”Cancel in, Bru. Or move it back. Or do it this weekend. They can’t move mountains for you, just because of who you are.” she snapped watching him open his mouth. ”No.”
”Okay then. I guess I’ll call Aaron….” he said looking down at the floor defeated.
”It’s good to have someone strong like that by your side, Mr. Hernandez.” the doctor smiled at Marla easing some of her anxiety. ”I will see you two in a few days. Amber will be in shortly.”
Amber, the nurse, and Dr. Collins must have crossed paths with each other because within seconds she walked in, in perky pink scrubs and impeccably died blonde hair in a high ponytail. ”I promise I’ll be nice.” she smiled holding out the needle. Marla hurried over to his side sitting down next to him taking his other arm.
”Just look away, Bruno. It doesn’t hurt.” Marla told him. ”Or look at me.” she said sweetly.
”It’s just blood Mar..I can….” he looked down at the needle quickly turning to face her with an almost white expression.
She tried to hold in a laugh as he looked into her eyes failing bursting out laughing. ”I’m sorry, Bruno. I’m sorry!” she laughed putting her other hand on his face feeling it getting hot. ”You’ll be okay.”
”Do I at least get a snazzy Snoopy band aide or something?” he asked turning to Amber.
”All I have is clear.” she answered with a sad face.
”We’ll switch it when we get home, Bru.” Marla said holding him up as they walked out the door.
They walked over to the same receptionist to schedule the ultrasound. Marla grabbed Bruno’s phone flipping through his calendar picking a day. ”Thursday.” she told him handing the phone back to him.
He remained quiet as they walked down the dark hallway again. The ride home was quiet again. ”We’re both scared, Bruno. But remember what he said…it’s treatable…like really treatable.”
”I know.” he stated simply driving the rest of the way home quiet.
I’m sorry I was such a mess today. I don’t even know how to put together the words. Right now it’s just like a big mess that Rosie has made…but it’s all in my head. Thinking of not being there for you, not seeing our three beautiful kids grow-up, to see you cry, to think of you crying, to think of putting Rosie through even more hell and for the twins to go through this. To just lose it all. I don’t know what to say. Thank you for being there for me. I don’t know where I would be without you. I love you. Even if you did laugh after I got my blood drawn. Thanks for the Dora band aide, too. It’s dope. Don’t ever forget how much I love you.
”Rosalia! Come on! I’m gonna take you to school….” Bruno yelled early in the next morning. She bounced out of the room with her curly hair braided down her back wearing a green neon shirt with a matvhing neon pink skirt with black high tops. ”Good morning, sunshine!” he said sweetly kissing her on the cheek looking up at Marla who was holding Esperanza.
”Dad…Hope rolled over….and Jello can’t do it. It’s funny…” Rosie said grabbing her small backpack. They had started calling Esperanza Hope because Rosie wasn’t the only one who had a hard time saying her name. It was just easier.
”I’m sorry I missed it.” Bruno said kissing Marla. ”I’ll be back. ”
”Okay…have a good day at school, mama…” Marla kissed Rosie on the head as they walked out the door. She held onto Hope walking back to get her brother holding them both tightly then placing them on a blanket to play with them waiting for Bruno. She looked into their bright brown eyes seeing Bruno in both of them. She thought back to looking at baby pictures with Bruno’s mother the winter she was pregnant with Rosie and all the silly stories she had for all her kids. Marla thought of all the similar stories she had with Rosie knowing that she was a female version of Bruno….down to the way she woke up in the morning. She looked at the now 3 month old babies trying to figure out which traits of each of them they were going to get. Hope was thoughtful and quiet at times like she was, but she could already tell she was going to have Bruno’s infectious smile. Angelo was a spitting image of Marla as a baby. He was chubby and had dark green eyes, but had Bruno’s skin and his smile. It’s a good thing they got his smile. That’s my favorite. She thought to herself still playing with the babies. But who is going to be the loud and obnoxious one? She asked herself. ”It’s gonna be you, isn’t it Angelo?” she said picking him up kissing his cheek as she started to feed him placing one hand on Hope keeping her quiet watching her fall asleep. She switched babies feeding Hope walking slowly hearing Bruno come in the door humming some new song. ”Bruno?” she asked.
”I’m right here…” he said smiling at her leaning in to kiss her. ”Where’s Angelo?”
”He’s asleep. My mom should be here in a few minutes. I told her I was sick of driving over there and that it was a hassle…so she said she’d come over. ” Marla handed him the baby watching him place her next to her brother. Marla wrapped her arms around Bruno hugging him from behind reaching up to kiss his ear. ”Bruno…everything is going to be okay.” she said quietly. He turned around now hugging her looking into her eyes.
”Mar…it just scares me to think that I would be leaving you…never seeing these beautiful babies ever again…not being there for first dances, first games, first performances, first dates, last dates, weddings, babies….” he looked down upset at his feelings.
She lifted up his head looking into his eyes. ”We’ll be okay.”
”But, Mar…I want to be here. I never want to leave….”
”You’ll be here. No matter what.”she said very metaphorically.
He leaned in to kiss her lightly feeling a tear fall from her cheek. ”Please don’t cry, Mar. Please.”
”I’m trying.” she said hearing the back door open. ”Oh…she’s here..and you have a half an hour to get to your appointment.
They said good bye to Sylvia going to the car. Unlike the last doctor’s appointment they talked about their children laughing at the things Rosie was doing and gushing over how big the twins were getting. It was like nothing was wrong, at all. And then he turned into the big medical building. ”Oh shit.” she gasped.
”Marley….I;m scared too.” he said quietly walking with her to the office. This time he filled out the paperwork sitting down taking her hand playing with her fingers lingering on her wedding ring. ”I love you.” he whispered hanging on her ring even longer. Amber suddenly burst into the room like a ray of sunshine.
”Mr. Hernandez?” she asked. They both stuood up walking back with her. She gave him some instructions and then left them alone. Marla could clearly see his nerves. It wasn’t like before a concert or even before the babies were born. This was a type of nerves she saw him get when she was sick. The face she suddenly remembered waking up to all those nights in the hospital. He was afraid he was going to die.
The doctor came him reiterating the instructions trying to calm them both down. Marla cringed at all the talk of genitalia but hung in there for Bruno. She squeezed his hand watching the screen and then looking back at Bruno. She turned her attention to Dr. Collins’ face as he paused in a certain section of the screen.
”Right there….” he pointed to a white spot on the ultra sound. ”That’s it. ”
”What happens next?” Marla jumped in feeling Bruno’s hands start to sweat.
”A biopsy.” Dr. Collins answered. ”We need to schedule the biopsy. Get fixed up and we’ll sit down in my office.” he said turning off the machines. ”You two take your time.” he said leaving the room. Bruno put on his pants looking at Marla trying not to freak out but failing. She saw tears come down his cheek and his voice start to shake.
”What….what….Marla….what do we do?” he asked her. She lifted her hand up wiping the tears off his cheek then quickly wiping them off her cheek moving her finger to his lips the same way he did when she freaked out.
”Just breathe, Bru. Just breathe.” she took his hand walking to the office with an open door.
”Sit down…” he indicated holding a manila folder. ”So….looking at the blood work…there are markers.”
”The AFP?” Marla asked.
”Yes, Mrs. Hernandez. And the HCG….” he said holding out the paperwork explaining the increased hormone levels to them. I read this….Marla thought to herself. This isn’t good. ”The levels are somewhat low indicating that the cancer is very localized. So, that’s why I’m suggesting the biopsy to ensure that we save as much of…..”
”My balls.” Bruno finally got out.
”Yes.” Dr. Collins answered.
Thank you for writing to me every singlenight since my seizure. You don’t understand how much it means to me. The memories, the words, the countless I love yous. I will cherish them and hold them in my heart forever. Today, though, you need one. You need an I love you. You need a I care for you. You need everything in the world right now because I know you’re scared. But, Bruno….remember everything we have read says that you will be okay. Everything will be okay. It will be hard to get through it, but hard is something that we’re used to. I love you. You are amazing. We will make it and you will see every single first and every single last.